The flight back to the U.S. was quiet. Jon was huddled in his seat, staring out the window, nursing a hangover. Veronica sat with the guys, playing cards, laughing and joking around. Periodically she shot looks in Jon’s direction and frowned. She’d thought her heart was hardened against him, but seeing him hurting bothered her. It’s not your problem Veronica! He’s got to work through this on his own.
Vicki served the first meal a couple hours into the flight. Veronica noticed that Jon’s tray was returned, untouched. Richie stood up to stretch then sat back down.
“What have you got planned for the break little girl?”
“Well, it’s not really a break for me. I’ve got to make sure that everything’s lined up for the next leg and check in with head office, and analyze the sales and chart stats by region and see where we need to boost promotions and how.”
“You are going to get to relax a bit though, aren’t you?” Richie frowned.
She smiled. “Yes. I’m planning on catching up on some sleep and hanging with the girls too. What have you got planned?”
“Just spending some time with Ava.”
“How’s your mom doing?”
“Pretty good. She has her good days and bad days.”
Veronica reached out to squeeze his hand. “Grief’s like that. She’s strong. She’ll be okay.”
He nodded. “I know. She’s stronger than I am.”
Her eyes burned at the shadows in his. “You’ll be okay too Rich. Don’t be afraid to lean on us when you need to.”
He eyed her. “Will you be there for him too?” His head jerked in Jon’s direction.
She snorted softly. “He doesn’t need me Rich. He doesn’t need anyone.”
“There’s a difference between not needing and not letting anyone help little girl.” Richie argued. “You’ve always been a caretaker. I can’t believe that you would stand by and do nothing when someone close to you is in that kind of pain.” He headed off her protest. “Don’t try and pretend that he isn’t close to you or that you don’t care about him. I won’t believe it. Your emotions run too deep for you to just turn them off completely, even after nineteen years and a boatload of pain.”
“Still taking psychology classes Dr. Freud?” She retorted dryly. She wasn’t sure she liked how well he read her.
He grinned. “Naw. I just pay attention. I’m not saying that you should jump back into a relationship with him, or even jump into bed with him – although that wouldn’t hurt either one of you - oh wait, you already did!” She gave him a withering glance. He chuckled. “All I’m saying is that you know what he’s going through and you’re probably the only one who can help him. You know what he’s like. He’ll never ask for help. He’s struggling Ronnie. Whether you believe it or not, whether he admits it or not, he needs you.” Vicki came out to warn them to prepare for landing. They were dropping Richie off at LAX before continuing on to New Jersey. “Just think about it.”
Tico took Richie’s seat across the table from Veronica after takeoff. David joined them. They chatted about their plans during the break, and their activities outside of the band until Vicky came around with another meal. Jon’s tray was waved away.
“Are you going to do something or are you going to let him self-destruct?” David asked her quietly. Tico just watched her intently.
“Why do you all think that I know how to fix him, or that he’d listen to me anyway?”
“Because you’ve been there and survived nina. You know what helped you and you know him.” Tico explained.
“And he’ll listen to you because he always has....and because you make him listen.” David added.
She stared at both of them for a long minute, then sighed and stood. “Spineless wimps.”
“Go get him tiger!” David grinned.
Vicky was in the galley cleaning up when Veronica stuck her head in. “Has he eaten anything at all?”
Vicky shook her head. “No. What’s wrong with him?”
Veronica sighed. “He’s in some sort of a depressed funk.” She thought for a minute. “If you’ll give me a tray for him I’ll see if I can get him to eat something.”
Vicky handed over a tray. “Good luck.”
Veronica walked up the aisle, plunked the tray down in front of Jon and took the seat beside him. “Eat.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“You haven’t eaten anything the whole trip. In fact, you haven’t eaten much in days. You’re going to make yourself sick.”
His jaw firmed. “Leave me alone! I said I’m not fucking hungry!”
“And I said you need to eat! Damn it Jon! Stop acting like a sulking child! Eat or I swear I’ll get David and Tico to hold you down and I’ll shove it down your fucking throat!”
Blue eyes and violet clashed and battled for long minutes. Finally, Jon sighed and picked up the fork. They sat in silence while he ate and she watched. He shot her a look. “When did you become such a bully?”
She shrugged. “It comes out when I’m faced with pigheaded stubbornness.”
He snorted. “Pot and kettle there sweetheart.”
Her brows rose and her eyes widened. “Me? Nuh uh. I’m a laid back, easy going girl who rolls with the punches.”
Amusement made the blue eyes sparkle. “Riiight. And Hitler was a pacifist.”
She chuckled. “How’s the hangover?”
“Bearable.” He frowned. “Thank you for....helping me last night.” His memory of the previous night was a little fuzzy, but he did remember her helping him to bed. He had to assume by the fact that she was talking to him that he hadn’t done anything too stupid.
“You’re welcome. So what are your plans for the break?” If he couldn’t remember or didn’t bring up the events of the previous night, she wasn’t going to either.
He shrugged. “Spend some time with the kids.” He grimaced. “I should go to Philly too I guess.”
Veronica curled one leg under her and turned in her chair to face him. “Tell me about your football team and the Foundation.”
Jon shoved away his empty tray and took a sip from his coffee cup. He raked a hand through his hair and let it settle on her knee. She didn’t push it away. For the next half hour he talked about the Soul and his hopes to get to the Arena Bowl and how he set up the Foundation and what he hoped to accomplish with it.
While she listened and asked questions Veronica watched his face closely, smiling in satisfaction to see some of his normal spark and emotion.
He noticed her perusal and smile. “What?”
She put her hand over his on her knee and squeezed. “It’s nice to see you talk without having to constantly prod you.” He grimaced. She squeezed his hand again. “Happy thoughts Jon. That’s how you get through it. Focus on the happy thoughts.”
He sighed, nodded and squeezed back.